For Rachel Hunger, life was family, kindness and dance

  • Rachel Hunger died after being taken off life support Wednesday following an allergic reaction. Courtesy

  • Rachel Hunger died after being taken off life support Wednesday following an allergic reaction. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 5/8/2019 6:41:50 PM

It seemed like the spring would be a time of renewal for Rachel Hunger.

As a molecular genetics student at the University of New Hampshire, the Concord resident occasionally took time during the winter months to share important parts of her life through the online magazine Her Campus UNH.

In December, she wrote about how her mother’s childcare center, Little Sprouts of Bow, showed her the value of letting your child become independent. In a November post, she wrote openly about how she found the strength to be on her own after a difficult three-year relationship.

In a February article, Hunger wrote about how lucky she was to have two younger siblings – a brother and sister she sometimes felt took care of her instead of the other way around.

“I wish more than that for them. I want them to be treated the way they deserve, by all their friends and partners. ... I hope they find success and happiness in what they love to do, I hope they find support from those around them while pursuing these things,” she wrote.

“... To my siblings, I love you, I have always loved you, and I will always love you.”

Tuesday was Hunger’s 21st birthday. On Wednesday, she was removed from life support, according to the family, and later died.

Members of the Concord community – some of whom were able to visit Hunger in the days leading up to her death – are struggling to understand what happened.

On April 19, Hunger suffered anaphylactic shock after eating an egg roll she didn’t know contained peanuts. She went into cardiac arrest, and her brain went without oxygen for 30 minutes, her family said.

For the last few weeks, Hunger was kept on life support and heavy sedatives at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, her body otherwise healthy, as doctors tried to save her brain. But the trauma Hunger’s brain had sustained was too great, and couldn’t tolerate coming off the sedatives. 

It seemed impossible, said Taylor Fields. Hunger had been one of her closest friends growing up, although they’d drifted apart after high school. They’d spoken just days before Hunger’s allergic reaction about their lives, about maybe reconnecting in the summer.

“It was a short conversation, but it was comforting,” Fields said Wednesday. “It’s like, ‘Your life is good, you’re happy, you’re happy to be dancing again.’ ”

“I’m disappointed,” Fields continued. “Not in her, but in the world. It took such a genuine person who had just got her life back. I wish she had more time.”

Fields and Hunger met in third-grade. At first, they had a classic rivalry – they both had the same “boyfriend.” Once they got over that, the two realized they had a lot in common, and became fast friends.

Hunger was a person of high spirits, Fields said. It was common to see her performing leaps and kicks through the school, and she was determined to be friendly with everyone.

She was also a joker. She recalled one night staying up late to watch a scary movie they shouldn’t have, only to scare themselves too much to fall asleep.

The next school day, Hunger brought in a milkshake with blood-red food coloring. “She was very funny,” Fields said. “She loved to try to make people laugh. ... If you look at pictures of her, the natural ones, all she’s doing is laughing.”

Cindy Flanagan, owner and teacher at Concord Dance Academy, remembered a slightly different Hunger.

“She was very quiet, stoic and inquisitive,” Flanagan said. But she was a talented dancer who excelled in most disciplines, favoring the fluidity of lyrical dance and the discipline of ballet.

Flanagan described Hunger as a team player who often helped out in other dance classes, becoming a familiar face to younger students. In particular, she took to mentoring her younger sister, Allison.

It was unusual to have a former student like Hunger to participate in a competition. But that’s what Hunger wanted to do with her sister this season – and Flanagan said their dance set to “To Build a Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra scored high every time.

It was “something,” Flanagan said, to see the two sisters move in concert with each other.

The community has rallied around the Hunger family. Concord school board member Barbara Higgins has created a meal train and GoFundMe page and recently organized a T-shirt drive called “Be The Miracle” to benefit the family.

(Caitlin Andrews can be  reached at 369-3309, candrews or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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